At many levels, the past weeks mark the transformation of a nation at the crossroads of its history and geography. Few would have thought football would take centre stage at the heart of Australia's political institution, the Great Hall of Parliament house in Canberra. Or that football could get politics to rise above the Australian adversarial system to have Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull practically entwined in the same football scarf.
And that football might have any following at the National Press Club (NPC).
Football of the world game variety at any rate. Not Australian rules. Or rugby union. Or rugby league.
This is ... Australians are still in two minds what to think, actually. The purists have no trouble tripping "football" off their tongue. This is football of the round ball variety, the biggest game the world over, bigger multiple-fold than the multi-discipline Olympic Games.
Ever the contrarian, however, many Australians continue to insist on pinning the "soccer" nomenclature on the round ball game. Some, for practical reasons: it's not easy having to distinguish between four football codes. (Two, actually; rugby - union and league - having long conceded the football ground to Aussie rules.) And each of the codes run trans-Tasman (including New Zealand) professional leagues, confounding the economist in a nation of 21.6 million people.
There are those Australians deliberately intent on denigrating the world game and its adherents: the wog (later European immigrant) game for sheilas (“strine” for women).
No wonder football writers, commentators and their sports editors suffer split personalities (split loyalties?) in their coverage of the world game. In one breath, many unconsciously (or deliberately) switch between talking "soccer" and "football".
To me, the world game is "football". Always has been; always will be.
What's in a name? It's one level in the culmination of the transformation of the game in the past weeks. The transformation has been building since February last year. For the first time, Australia is playing for a spot at the World Cup (in South Africa next year) as an Asian nation.
In Sydney two weeks ago, the Socceroos - as the national team is affectionately known - earned its spot in South Africa with a 0-0 draw against Bahrain, easily topping its qualifying group.
It's the first time Australia has qualified back to back for the World Cup finals, after Germany 2006. And only the third time the Socceroos have made the finals, after the first in 1974. The 2010 campaign culminated on Wednesday with Australia's 2-1 defeat of Japan in Melbourne. "The Socceroos head to the World Cup as kings of Asia", screamed one front-page headline.
No doubt it was the front page of the sports pullout in The Age in the city that's seat to Aussie rules. But football was the feature article on the front page, with a photograph taking up a third of the space. Australia finished five points ahead of Japan at the top of the table, with Japan also having qualified for South Africa.
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